116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — After “not moving for a year and a half,” 13-year-old Jermaine Robinson is gaining confidence on the basketball court, learning teamwork and celebrating wins and commiserating over loses with his friends afterward in the locker room.
Jermaine, an eighth-grader at Taft Middle School, is one of the many Cedar Rapids middle school students taking advantage of the opportunity to play sports this year after middle school athletics across Iowa were canceled during the 2020-21 academic year to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In an emergency health order during the worst of the pandemic, Gov Kim Reynolds suspended basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, swimming, dance and group fitness classes at gyms at middle schools in Iowa.
Today, however, seventh- and eight-graders are back on the court learning teamwork, discipline and having a great time.
Jermaine is playing basketball, football and going out for track this year. Preparing for his basketball game earlier this week, he said it takes courage to shoot a basketball in a hoop.
“I’m not afraid to get out and play, whether I miss or make a shot,” he said.
Earlier this year, Taft hosted a volleyball match, soccer match and football game. Steve Koepke, Taft science teacher, activities coordinator and eighth-grade boys and girls basketball coach, said he couldn’t believe how many people showed up to support the middle school teams.
“Both parking lots were filled, the gym was packed and there were a couple hundred people at a middle school football game,” he said.
“I could see parents smiling and cheering,” Koepke said. “It was like a gigantic booster shot for joy and school spirit.”
For eighth-graders whose middle school careers have been defined by the pandemic, this is their first year to play sports since sixth-graders are not eligible.
Everyone gets a jersey in middle school, Koepke said. Middle school athletics is about students getting involved and figuring out what they like and what they’re good at.
Middle school athletes also learn how to prioritize their academics, Koepke said. If a student isn’t passing a class, he or she can’t play the sport until the grade improves.
“If you’re going to be a good athlete, you need to be disciplined,” Koepke said. “If you’re going to be a good student, you need to be disciplined.”
Last year, there almost was “mourning and grief” over the loss of middle school athletics because of he pandemic, Koepke said. As a teacher, he observed the pent-up energy students had and would let the kids outside to get “two minutes of fresh air.”
“Run and jump in a snow drift and come right back in,” Koepke said.
Brittany Torres, the mother of a Taft basketball player, said her son wants to try every sport this year. He’s learning what he likes and what he is or isn’t good at playing, she said. Torres said her son is learning how to be a good teammate and prioritize his academics if he wants to play.
Devaughn Sheeler, 13, an eighth-grader at Taft, was really disappointed he couldn’t play basketball in seventh grade. He’s learning a lot this year about teamwork and says that hard work pays off in academics and on the basketball court.
Jayson Slings, 14, an eighth-grader at Taft, said playing basketball in middle school is not about “wins and losses” but about learning how to play the game.
“Our coach makes practices hard, but the games are fun,” Jayson said.
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